Foundries are paradises for occupational hygienists, with a whole host of potential hazards. Airborne toxins abound, from metal fumes, silica from fettling of sandmoulds, vanadium and other toxic metals from furnace firebricks, asbestos and more.
High level of noise, very hot environments, and hand-arm vibration can be very significant issues, as can eye damage from infra-red radiation emitted by white-hot metals.
There are foundries in Ireland, though since Irish steel closed their haulbowline base they tend to be small-scale and used for sculpting, and re-creation of historical items.
What does occur in large quantities in Ireland is welding, cutting, grinding and associated operations, which can expose the operator to metal fumes, UV radiation, flux gases, noise, and toxic metals such as cobalt and lead
Welding fumes, particularly from the dirtier welding processes and welding on galvanised or stainless steel can cause metal fume fever, or Monday morning fever as it is sometimes know, due to its tendency to be felt most acutely on a Monday after two days of no exposure. Welding some metals and alloys, or welding on metal on which there is still a residue of chlorinated degreaser can cause dangerous exposure to Chrome VI, or the deadly gas phosgene. Ozone, a surprisingly toxic gas can also be generated by the welding arc, and is the main hazard associated with TIG welding on aluminium.
Any cutting and grinding operations using high speed or hardened steels causes the generation of metal dusts that often contain cobalt, or Nickel, both potent sensitisers, and strongly associated with contact dermatitis on the skin.
Noise is obviously a huge risk in a metal fabricating workshop, and can be difficult to assess correctly – much exposure can be cause by hammering and movement of workpieces, which can tends to occur randomly and can be difficult to capture with a hand-held meter. Using personal noise dosimeters can help with this.
- Exposure to welding, cutting and brazing fumes.
- Workplace noise exposure assessment.
- Exposure to cobalt and nickel during grinding, drilling and cutting.
- Thermal environment surveys.
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